A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 2, 2001
CONTACT: Tommy Voltero (617) 722-2240
A WOMAN'S WORK IS NEVER DONE
"As I passed from town to town, I was made to feel the great evil of woman's utter dependence on man.... Woman must have a purse of her own, and how can this be, so long as the law denies to the wife that right?"
Last week, I had the fortune of attending a reception at the Great Hall of the State House honoring women's accomplishments in the workplace. While speaking to our distinguished guests, all of whom were members of the "Center for Women and Enterprise", I happened to glance up at the ceiling. On an ordinary day, there is nothing really special about the glass ceiling that covers the Great Hall. On that day, however, the ceiling reminded me of the very cause that these women represent.
-Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)
The term "glass ceiling" describes a situation where an invisible barrier prevents a person from advancing in the workplace due to some qualifying characteristic such as race, sex, or age. As recent as 40 years ago, it was rare to see women in professions other than the "pink collar" jobs of teacher, nurse, and housekeeper. In fact, the concept of a woman even having her own career, let alone advancing in one, was considered bizarre.
We touched on all of these themes during our reception. On this occasion, however, the focus was not on failure, but ofnsuccess. The speakers lauded the incredible advancements made by working women over the years. In Massachusetts, many these women were helped by the Center for Women and Enterprise. The Center offers comprehensive business education and technical assistance to help women turn their ideas into viable enterprises. Since its inception in 1995, the Center has served over 2,500 women entrepreneurs.
More than half of the clients served are women of middle to low income, but the Center offers its services to everyone. Some women enroll in the training programs to learn the logistics of starting a small day care center or neighborhood retail shop. Others seek strategic advice on how to grow their multi-million dollar internet companies.
One woman who took advantage of a Center program was a mother of two disabled children from Hyde Park. Last June, she started "All Aboard Adventure", a travel service for children and young adults with special needs. Another was able to secure a lease for her new business before she even finished the training, and her business became profitable after only the first year. Internet retail giant Amazon.com is still struggling to accomplish such a feat, even after several years of operation.
The Center for Women and Enterprise offers its services with the understanding that women still face many obstacles in the business world. Their choice of venue for a conference, the State House, was especially fitting considering that the most recent addition to our exhibit halls was dedicated to honoring the contributions of women to public life in Massachusetts. "Hear Us", located just outside of Doric Hall, praises six Massachusetts women who made significant strides in women's rights, mental health reform, abolitionism, and many other worthy causes.
One of the six women on the wall, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan (1864-1943), is of particular relevance because of her dedication to the advancement of working women. The he daughter of poor Irish immigrants, O'Sullivan got her first factory job at age 14. Even as a skilled worker in the printing trade, she could never make as much money as a man. Her anger over low wages and poor working conditions led her to become the first female organizer for the American Federation of Labor (AFL).
After getting frustrated with the male-dominated labor movement, O'Sullivan turned to legislative remedies to protect women and children in the workplace. One of her most significant accomplishments was the successful passage of a law prohibiting more than 54 hours of work per week for women and children. She was also a major part of the famous "Bread and Roses" strike in Lawrence, which involved over 30,000 textile workers. As a reward for her efforts on behalf of workers, O'Sullivan was appointed as a factory inspector for the Department of Labor and Industries in 1913.
The "Hear Us" exhibit is not the only example of women's progress in the State House. Currently, there are 49 female legislators in the Massachusetts General Court. Of those, 37 are representatives (out of 160) and 12 are senators (out of 40). With over 25% of the membership being women, the Senate now has a record number of female legislators. In both the House and the Senate, women chair committees and serve on the leadership teams. The Assistant Majority Whip in the House, Rep. Lida Harkins, and the Majority Leader, Sen. Linda Melconian, are prime examples. The Senate Chair of my new committee, Taxation Senator Marian Walsh, a former colleague in the House.
The existence of female legislators in today's General Court, along with State House exhibits that honor the contributions of women in the past, are testaments to the fierce determination of women to achieve an equal role in society. The incredible work being done by the Center for Women and Enterprise demonstrates that this devotion still thrives.
Although some "old fashioned" people may look upon this "progress" in a less than favorable light, in the end, there is no doubt that women are headed in the right direction. Our society is rooted in Enlightenment thinking, which concluded that humans do not know everything. In turn, because we are imperfect, we must seek knowledge in as many avenues and from as many diverse perspectives as possible; in other words, we operate in a state of perpetual trial and error. History has taught us that humankind can benefit from this kind of experimentation: American culture itself has borrowed language, philosophy, commerce, inventions, and other concepts from different societies over the years. Women offer their own unique perspectives of the world, and there is no doubt that their contributions to society benefit all of us.